Bernardo M. Villegas
Articles  >> more topics
Business Guidelines from Blessed John Paul II

          We reflected last week on how the teachings of the newly beatified Blessed John Paul II have clarified the role of individual economic initiative and the market system in the long-term and sustainable development of a country.  In this column, we shall continue to pay tribute to  this Great Pope for another major doctrinal contribution that can enlighten business people in their work.  He was the first Pope to develop a full-blown philosophy and theology of human work, the ultimate resource of any business organization.   Adding the highest motivation to do one's work well, whether at the managerial or rank-and-file levels, the Pope made it clear that work is part of the original state of man and precedes his fall.  He demolished once and for all the erroneous thinking that work was a result of a punishment or a curse.  By clearly declaring this philosophical and theological truth, Blessed John Paul II encourages every worker to aspire to attain the original state of the first man and woman in which they enjoyed every second of their work and felt that every work they did--whether manual or intellectual-was an act of co-creating with God. 

          In his Encyclical Laborem Exercens (On Human Work), Blessed John Paul II explained that human work some times becomes toil and pain because of the sin of Adam and Eve, who broke their relationships of trust and harmony with God through disobedience because they wanted to be like God.  The prohibition to eat "of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil," reminds man that he has received everything as a gift and that he continues to be a creature and not the Creator.  It was precisely this temptation that prompted the sin of Adam and Eve:  "you will be like God." They wanted absolute dominion over all things, without having to submit to the will of the Creator. From that moment, the soil becomes miserly, unrewarding, sordidly hostile; only by the sweat of one's brow will it be possible to reap its fruit.  Despite the sin of our first parents, however, God's plan for mankind, the meaning of His creatures--and among these, man who is called to cultivate and care for creation--remain the same.  The doctrine contained in Labor Exercens has added a higher level of motivation to the usual economic, psychological or psychic, and social rewards that encourage workers to strive for excellence in their work.

      Especially for Christians, a supernatural or spiritual dimension has been given to human work.  As stated in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, the awareness that "the form of this world is passing away" is not an exoneration from being involved in the world, and even less from work, which is an integral part of the human condition, although not the only purpose of life.  No Christian, in light of the fact that he belongs to a united and fraternal community, should feel that he has the right not to work and to live at the expense of others.   Rather, all are charged by the Apostle Paul to make it a point of honor to work with their own hands, so as to "be dependent on nobody", and to practise a solidarity which is also material by sharing the fruits of their labor with "those in need." This supernatural motivation can strongly reinforce the other legitimate human motivations that managers have traditionally used to encourage their workers to work hard and well.

       Blessed John Paul II also contributed the philosophical foundation for many an executive's declaration that their most important resource is people.  In the same encyclical Laborem Exercens, he made it clear that labor has an intrinsic priority over capital:  "This principle directly concerns the process of production:  in this process labor is always a primary efficient cause, while capital, the whole collection of means of production, remains a mere instrument or instrumental cause.  This principle is an evident truth that emerges from the whole of man's historical experience."    Especially now that the Philippines is enjoying a relatively peaceful environment as regards labor relations (as former Secretary Labor Patricia Sto. Tomas observed in a workshop on labor relations, strikes have practically disappeared in the corporate world), we must heed Blessed John Paul II's reminder that there must exist between work and capital a relationship of complementarities:  the very logic inherent within the process of production shows that the two must mutually permeate one another and that there is an urgent need to create economic systems in which the opposition between capital and labor is overcome. 

          The doctrine contained in Laborem Exercens strikes a perfect balance between the interests of capital and those of labor.  There is no intention to deny the important contribution of capital to the process of value creation in the economy.  It is clearly stated that "capital cannot stand without labor, nor labor without capital."  This is a truth that applies also today, because "it is altogether false to ascribe either to capital alone or to labor alone what is achieved by the joint work of both; and it is utterly unjust that the one should arrogate unto itself what is being done, denying the effectiveness of the other."  A final insight that we get from this encyclical on human work is that capital itself--which is any manmade good used to produce other goods, e.g. equipment, machinery, etc.--is after all the result of human labor, both intellectual and manual.  No one can deny, therefore, that labor is prior to capital.

          All these considerations from the teachings of Blessed John Paul II should more than convince business executives and entrepreneurs that their first corporate responsibility is to their workers.  It should never happen that an enterprise boasts of such CSR projects as greening the environment, building houses for the poor, improving the quality of basic education in the public schools while maltreating their workers by underpaying them, overburdening them with work so that they have no time for their family and religious duties, endangering their health by lack of concern for their work environment, etc.  It must be stated over and over again that the first corporate social responsibility of a business is to respect the human dignity of each and ever one of its workers.  For comments, my email address is